Meg Stuart
Damaged Goods
Jozef Wouters/Decoratelier
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DE MORGEN, A liberating failure - Pieter T’Jonck (4/10/12)
DE STANDAARD, The power of failure - Sarah Vankersschaever (08/10/2012)
FOCUS KNACK, Meg Stuart in Wonderland - Els Van Steenberghe (10/10/12)
ETCETERA, Music is potentially always a threat - Jeroen Versteele (09/12)
THALO MAGAZINE, Moving the viewer - Alena Giesche (06/03/2012)
THE NEW YORK TIMES, Forget about a Paper Moon: This Swan’s Cardboard - Claudia La Rocco (14/01/2012)

The man sits inside the dubious shelter of hit little cardboard shack, staring out at strangers. The strangers stare back. His body makes little twitches. The palm tree and giant swan, also cardboard, are slowly wilting, as his roof. It has been raining, and hard, for a long time now.

The man is Francisco Camacho, and his world is “Blessed” (and also, it seems, damned).
Created by Meg Stuart with Mr. Camacho and two ancillary performers, the 80-minute mostly solo work, from 2007, is being performed at New York Live Arts, where it had is North American premiere on Thursday.

Mr. Camacho is a compelling, enigmatic presence. Following him, we are plunged into a world at one particular and anonymous. The set (by Doris Dziersk). The downpour and a persistent, ominous sense that something is not right calls to mind the feel of Joan Didion’s novel “The Last Thing He Wanted”, which centers on an American woman embroiled in an international conspiracy on a beleaguered tropical island. “She liked the place empty,” Mr. Didion writes. “She liked the way the shutters had started losing their slats. She liked the low clouds, the glitter on the sea, the pervasive smell of mildew and bananas.”

In BLESSED the smell is wet cardboard. Soon enough, the set has all collapsed, leaving Mr. Camacho to seek shelter as best he can among the soggy, crumpled forms. The rain continues in bursts. Jan Maertens’s lighting offers hazy spotlights and harsh glares, or all but disappears to create a semi-gloom. Hahn Rowe’s spooky, electronic score, though more boilerplate than his typically distinctive compositions, sets a spooky, alienated mood.

Who and what is this man meant to be? His movement strange and stylized, shifts through varied registers. He walks in smooth, sliding steps, holding his body in semi-profile, like a figure from a frieze come almost to life. He bows down to the regally curving neck of the swan before it has sagged over, mimicking a ballet swan. Later he crawls in rapid, jerky trajectories, like a rodent seeking some morsel of sustenance.

Mr. Camacho’s watchers must ferret out their sustenance too. Ms. Stuart frequently plays with the oblique and the tedious, often with thoughtful results. But at a certain point on Thursday my experience shifted from feeling caught up within the poetic vagaries of a live work to constructing, from a remove, intellectual hypotheses about it.

The catalyst for this shift might have been Mr. Camacho’s donning a mask with read beard and multicolored afro (the costumes are by Jean-Paul Lespagnard) and morphing into a jokey, sinister figure with slinky, sexualized movements. Much later Kotomi Nishiwaki makes an appearance as a dancer from what might have been a Las Vegas casino routine, mugging it up and prancing about as Mr. Camacho sits amid the wet ruins, his mouth pulled into a terrible, teeth-baring grimace.

You could think of cultural imperialism and of natural disasters in countries where tourism rebounds ling before the victims do. (Mr. Camacho eventually gets his own dress-up moment, as Abrahan Hurtado puts a series of outlandish costumes on his frame, while Mr. Camacho stands with his arms outstretched, his eyes rolling back in his head like a cross between a mystic and an imbecile.)

But nothing matches the power of Mr. Camacho’s early stillness. As BLESSED grows more involved, its meaning seems increasingly imposed from without, and its internal mysteries dim.

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